The Russian mafia state: Luke Harding – WORD Christchurch

Cover of Mafia stateThis year’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured some interesting characters, and one such character was the alleged raving Russophobe Luke Harding, a clever journalist who works as a Foreign Correspondent for that little rag The Guardian (which has won Press awards).

Luke has achieved a high degree of notoriety over the years, but one of his most recent books – Mafia State: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia, provides an intriguing expose of life in Russia, which he claims through his own experiences as a reporter there, is pretty much a highly corrupt and illiberal country with all sorts of internal problems, and which brews away intimidatingly on the borders of all its neighbours in the region.

After taking a position in Russia as the Guardian’s new Moscow Bureau Chief, everything seemed to be going fine until one night, after arriving home from a dinner party, he discovers the window to his son’s bedroom is wide open! From then on, all sorts of untoward things start going down: phones that play back your conversions, ciggy butts in the loo (that aren’t yours), office doors unlocked, and being stalked by suspect looking men clad in leather. The book then goes on to tell of the Kremlin’s harassment and intimidation of various human rights groups, journalists and opposition groups. Worth a read, and gives you a picture of one of the primary actors (Russia) in the current Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to have a quick yarn with Luke at WORD after he appeared at a forum with Nicky Hager, and we had a chat about Russia and its recent moves into Eastern Europe:

So, um, sorry to bother you, but I’ve got a couple of quick questions, I promise I’m not from the Kremlin” I said, which he probably believed due to the absence of a flat top hair cut, a huge muscular frame, a leather jacket and a gun jammed in the back of my pants.

Ha, it’s all good.

So, um, in light of your experiences in Russia, do you think that Russia would be far more aggressive and expansionist if it weren’t for other ‘strong powers’ (i.e the USA) in world politics who fundamentally act as deterrents?

“Without a doubt” he said, and went on to say that the Russian offensives and actions in the Ukraine and the Eastern European region “is the scariest thing I’ve seen in my lifetime … People talk about the Islamist extremist group ISIS in the Middle East, and understandably so, but these people are not ‘State Actors’, that is, despite being somewhat well resourced, and scary, they don’t posses the military might and regional coverage of Russia.Yet ISIS has been the focus of world media, and this issue is garnering more media attention than Russia’s ongoing aggression in Eastern Europe”.

So where is the EU (European Union) on all this”, I said, “in the last 20 years the EU has promoted this ‘European solidarity’, and the so called ‘shared European identity’, yet when it comes to taking action on these Russian incursions into the Ukraine, there is indecision and arguably pandering. EU soft power isn’t working”….?

“Well that’s right”, states Luke…”fundamentally they are scared due to their reliance on Russian oil and gas”… This is a typical geopolitical problem. Russia is one of the world’s largest suppliers of oil and natural gas, and Europe has stuff all, except the Nordic/Scandinavian region who have cloistered themselves within their own energy cooperative. In fact, according the European Commission 33% of the EU’s oil, and around 40% or their natural gas comes from the Kremlin (the energy sector is arguably controlled by the State in Russia).

This is just a little problematic if you want to seriously challenge Russian moves into Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular.  All this comes at the worst possible time for the EU, which was arguably founded on the basis of a post World War Two security community with a view to protect Europe from looming and ominous Soviet expansionism during the Cold War. The last thing the EU needs is price hikes in oil and gas, which causes problems for productivity and various sectors of the European economy… Five to six years after the Global Financial Crisis, Europe is still struggling economically with indicators showing that the world’s 4th largest economy, Germany, is contracting, which is a concern given that Germany is Western Europe’s current economic powerhouse, and the Mediterranean economies are still wallowing in the economic and social mire.

Russia knows this, that’s why it chose to enter the Ukraine now, with the EU stretched, and knowing that after ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US population probably don’t have positive feelings about entering another conflict.

Is the EU pandering to Russia? Maybe a wee bit…

Has much changed 100 years after World War One?Probably not, we still live in a geopolitical environment made up of countries who want more land and need more oil and gas to lubricate their systems of exchange.

Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech
Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech

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